The 4 Myths of Cloud Computing in Business

With all the talk about cloud computing and its impact on business, innovation and sustainability, it's important to understand what the cloud is -- and what it isn't.

James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, provided his company's take on the subject this week at the Autodesk University, where cloud computing was Topic A for the annual users conference that drew more than 8,000 people. [Disclosure: Autodesk hosted my stay at the event.]

The main advantages cloud computing provides -- connectivity, mobility, flexibility and the power of infinite computing -- are easy to grasp. But less well understood is the definition of clouding computing and its key attributes.

Staten sought to bring clarity to the matter in a talk about for four common myths of cloud computing.

Myth 1: The cloud is just another name for outsourcing.

No, it isn't, said Staten, who offered this definition:

What makes a cloud a cloud: A standardized technology capability (services, software or infrastructure) delivered in a pay-per-use, self-service way.

The three characteristics -- standardized technology capability, pay-per-use and self-service -- need to be present, said Staten, who warned of "cloudwashing" by vendors and others who mistakenly or deliberately say they have a cloud product, when in fact they don't.

Staten added it's important to keep in mind the business model of the cloud. “You never own the cloud," he said. "You always just rent from the cloud.”

Myth 2: The cloud is the future for everything.

While cloud computing is reshaping the way business is done and how people connect, it will not replace traditional computing even though it may greatly inform it.

"Not everything is [or will become] cloud and shouldn't be," said Staten. He and various Autodesk execs pointed out that there are things cloud computing does very well and others best left to traditional computing.

"I would submit to you that cloud is inherently good for four things," said Amar Hanspal, Autodesk's senior vice president for platform solutions and emerging business, in another discussion session:

  1. Connecting people to each other and connecting devices.
  2. Connecting people to information and fresh data in real time.
  3. Delivering the power of infinite computing.
  4. Making it possible for everyone to have access to design technology, so that in effect everyone can be a designer or participate in the process.

Traditional computing typically involves fixed costs and items, enables varied deployments by a single tenant, is more manual and affords a high degree of control and customization, Staten said.

In contrast, cloud computing is characterized by variable costs and items, standardized deployments, multi-tenancy, a high degree of automation, lower levels of customer control and limited customization, he said.

The most likely scenario for IT as well as business solutions going forward is a blend of the two, said Staten, pointing to Autodesk's approach for some of its new offerings.

Myth 3: The cloud saves you money.

A couple of qualifiers need to be added to make that sentence true, according to Staten. "The cloud can be cheaper, if you use it right," he said.

He offered car rental as an analogy: Renting a car is a pay-per-use proposition that is cost effective for certain situations but not for those requiring extended or permanent 24/7 use.

"For the cloud, you want to put things out there that a) have elasticity and b) transiency," Staten said, "Go up there for a little while and then go back down."

Next Page: More myth-busting and predictions about cloud computing.